Just finished a 10 day trial with Verizon using their MIFI Hotspot device (Novatel MIFI 451 for $270.00). This wireless router is supposed to give you a WIFI hotspot wherever you are and can be shared with up to 5 other WIFI enabled devices. The product sounded perfect for mobile users of the Internet. Verizon boasts 4-12Mbps download speeds, in the words of my Verizon sales rep; “this is a replacement technology for Comcast”. My Comcast cable modem can score 12+Mbps with Speakeasy speed tests, but Verizon’s Hotspot technology never tested higher than 1.5Mbps with over 30 speed test on Verizon’s 4G wireless network. Verizon has just introduced their 4G LTE network in Boulder, Colorado and there seems be network tweaking issues, or their 4G network is highly over-rated. From my house, I consistently received 4 bars (the maximum number of bars) of 4G signal strength on the Novatel MIFI router I tested. At times, web images visually-poured into their pages just like back in the dial-up days of the Internet.
The Hotspot’s 4G speed was disappointing, and not nearly fast enough for the type of web work I do. Outside of the metro area, the device reverts to Verizon’s 3G network which means even slower data downloads. At $50 per month for 5GB of data, I was hoping I could drop my cable modem from Comcast ($58 per month) and work from a wireless hotspot since I am currently a regular commuter.
Verizon’s customer service was very good. They promptly answered all my emails and requested their network engineers try to investigate my hotspot performance problems. When it came time to return my hardware, they gave me a full refund including waving their return fee.
For now, I am back to looking for another wireless network solution.
During an August trip to Switzerland, I decided to try the Swiss carrier Sunrise for my communication needs which includes; texting my traveling partner, using Google Maps for bike touring navigation, reading emails, and for my web work. We travelled with two iPhones and one MacBook Air staying exclusively at Swiss or Italian campgrounds. The iPhones are both unlocked with iOS 4.3 and the MacBook Air has Apple’s new Lion OS installed.
Upon arrival in Switzerland, I investigated three of the six possible prepaid carriers: Swisscom, Orange, and Sunrise. I decided to try Sunrise’s voice-text-data prepaid plan. With Sunrise you pay CHF20.00 for each SIM card, we needed two for our two iPhones. Sunrise has regular SIM cards, but if you have a 4G iPhone with a micro SIM slot, their regular SIM cards can easily be reduced to the micro SIM size (no SIM cutting necessary).
Sunrise also gives you a credit of CHF20.00 to start your prepaid account, hence, your Sunrise SIM card is basically free. Sunrise charges CHF7.50 per month for 250MB/month for data use and overages costs 10Rp.(cents) per MB. As a Sunrise promotion, they currently wave the $7.50 for the first month.
So how long did this take to get two iPhones setup and paid for in the Sunrise store? About ten minutes. My Sunrise rep spoke good English, and handed me two SIM cards and told me they would be activated 15 minutes later. By the time I got back to our campground, both iPhones had voice-text-data capability. A pleasant surprise was that the iPhones needed no additional configuration within the iPhones’ Settings app, just plugin the SIM and 15 minutes later, you are up and running.
I have been using Sunrise for 10 days now, and I have only used CHF8.50 of my initial CHF20.00 credit. If you call *121# you can see your prepaid account balance. Sunrise knows where you are in Europe and when I was riding my bike up Nufennon Pass near the Italian border, Sunrise sent me a text message with all the roaming rates if I used my phone in Italy. When you signup with Sunrise, have them set your desired language, so you can understand text messages from Sunrise.
When I needed to work online with my MacBook Air and I didn’t have a wifi connection, I could easily tether my iPhone to my laptop with the USB/30pin Apple cable. Just connect the USB cable from the iPhone to the MacBook (w/Lion OS) and go into the Settings App and turn on Personal Hotspot. Again, no additional Sunrise configuration necessary, this gives your laptop a 3G internet connection almost anywhere in Switzerland. In some locations, the Sunrise 3G wireless connection was more reliable than the available wifi network. With 2 bars of 3G cellular signal strength, I get about 1.5Mbps of download speed and .2Mbps of upload speed.
In summary, I would recommend Sunrise to anyone traveling in Switzerland with frugal bandwidth needs and wanting reasonable wireless internet.
I now have a SIM card for each country in North America. Recently, I used my unlocked iPhone in Canada with their local carrier; Rogers Wireless. Yes, the dreaded Canadian cellular iPhone ripoff, Rogers Wireless; with their still horrible customer service.
My original online research seemed to suggest that buying a cheap Canadian Seven-Eleven Nokia phone and pulling the SIM card from the Nokia was the cheapest avenue to procuring a Canadian GSM compatible SIM card for my iPhone. This was unnecessary. Rogers Wireless now sells prepaid SIM cards for $10. That makes getting the Canadian SIM card easy, but the prepaid minutes are still expensive, but cheaper than the commitment of a Roger’s iphone contract, which won’t work for travelers to Canada.
So after buying the $10 SIM card, you can purchase $20 worth of prepaid minutes from Rogers. That’s $30 bucks to have an iPhone in Canada with some minutes. The minutes from Rogers are expensive; 25 cents/minute for the first 5 minutes of each day, and thereafter, the rate per minute drops to 15 cents per minute for the rest of that day. This is called Roger’s Pay As You Go prepaid (per minute) plan. There are other prepaid plans, but I was told by my Rogers rep that this was the most popular prepaid plan. Also, note that these prepaid plans do not offer a data option. If you want data, then, Roger’s will push you towards a contract.
Last year, I couldn’t even use my iPhone in Canada, this year, iPhone travelers to Canada have a reasonable prepaid option.